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"Residents push back against Westchester Airport privatization"


 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

 

Residents push back against Westchester Airport privatization

By Matt Coyne

The Lower Hudson (NY) Journal

 

                                A timeline chronicling the privatization process for Westchester County Airport

 

WHITE PLAINS - Opponents of the county legislature’s push to privatize Westchester County Airport filled the gallery at Monday night’s meeting, imploring the 17-member body to leave the facility alone.

 

“Today the airport is operated as a non-profit,” said Jonathan Wong, a Purchase resident who stated there was no incentive for the county to grow the airport as it stands. “Privatization would change all that.”

 

Wong was one of three speakers backed up by a box full of residents holding up neon green “No Airport Privatization” signs in the back of the room to argue that privatization — coupled with the new airport master plan, which projects significant growth — would be the first steps toward scrapping passenger limits, while posing an environmental threat to the communities around the airport.

 

Privatization would be the only way for Westchester to use revenue from the airport to bolster its general fund. The idea was first floated by County Executive Rob Astorino, who pitched the Board of Legislators a 40-year, $150 million deal with private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management in November.

 

The legislators declined to move forward with the plan, $15 million of which would have ended up in the 2017 budget, but decided to move forward with their own process after the New Year.

 

Monday night was the first public pushback from airport neighbors, including the Purchase Environmental Protective Association, a powerful group whose victories include blocking Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club from building a practice center at Manhattanville College.

 

“The privatization that you’re considering provides the incentive for the county to turn its back on its policy (not to expand the airport) and make more money,” said Deborah Porter, a Scarsdale resident.

 

“It’s critical of this board” to stop privatization, she added.

 

Frasca and Associates, the consulting firm hired by the county to help solicit and evaluate proposals, wants to get a deal done by the fall.

 

Board of Legislators Chairman Mike Kaplowitz, D-Somers, said Monday afternoon that residents should take heart that any privatization deal would need a super-majority of 12 votes.

 

That super-majority will not happen, he said, if the deal is not lucrative for the county and does not include environmental protections and high operational standards.

 

“If it doesn’t meet those standards the deal isn’t going to happen,” Kaplowitz said. “If it doesn’t hit those three, it won’t get the 12 votes needed.”

 

More than 20 firms have expressed interest in bidding, including Oaktree, which formed HPN Aviation Group with Connor Capital to bid. Current airport operator AvPorts and DY Consulting, which wrote the master plan, are also interested.

 

DY Consulting was a target of the speakers, who said they had plagiarized portions of the master plan.

 

Bids are due in July.

 

            Residents hold up signs at a Westchester County Board of Legislators meeting Monday, June 19, 2017.

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